About Me

My photo
Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Judas Window by John Dickson Carr writing as Carter Dickson (1938)

68. – 628.) The Judas Window by John Dickson Carr writing as Carter Dickson (1938) – James Answell has come to London to meet his future father-in-law, Avory Hume. Uneasy about the interview he gingerly enters the office at the back of Hume’s house. The former banker has fortified the room. There are steel shutters on the two windows. The only door is heavy and tight fitting.
            As they start their conversation Answell spins into unconsciousness after taking a drink from the whiskey and soda poured for him by Hume. When he awakes Hume is dead beside the desk an arrow driven 8 inches through his chest. The arrow had been part of a display on the wall behind the desk. Answell’s fingerprints are on the arrow and dust from the arrow on his hand. Hume had been an accomplished archer with the Woodmen of Kent.
            Compounding Answell’s problems there is no sign that any whiskey and soda had been poured and, worst of all, the door has been locked from the inside with a stiff dead bolt.
            No one is accepting Answell’s explanation that he was drugged and framed. He is soon in the dock at the Old Bailey facing a capital murder charge.
            Answell insists Sir Henry Merrivale, K.C. (better known as H.M.) defend him though the veteran court warrior has not tried a case in 15 years. Merrivale could have been a prototype for Rumpole of the Bailey as portrayed by Leo McKern. Both are aging, aggressive, blustering, colourful barristers who enjoy a cigar.
            The evidence against Answell is straightforward and devastating. Merrivale is facing a set of facts that would have called out for a guilty plea was not the gallows the punishment.
            The examination and cross-examination of witnesses are very well handled. The rules of evidence are followed. I was surprised to read that while Carr was the son of a lawyer he was not a lawyer. Few non-lawyer authors are as skilled as Carr in knowing what can actually be said in examination, cross-examination, re-examination and argument.
            Merrivale’s defence is predicated on the room having a Judas Window but the only windows are locked and shuttered. (In England a Judas Window is a type of prison cell window where guards can see a prisoner without being seen by the inmate.) Dickson has created a locked room which would challenge any defence counsel not a mystery writer. As a mystery reader I certainly saw no solution.
            After careful investigation Merrivale challenges pieces of evidence. An alternative to Answell stabbing Hume with the arrow is offered. Yet how will Merrivale show the murder took place within the locked room without Answell committing the crime?
            By the end of the book Carr has provided a plausible explanation and solution that could have been determined by a reader who is rigorously logical in reviewing the evidence. As with many solutions it requires elimination of what is impossible and then a determination of how what is not impossible could have been done. I neither came close to figuring out how the murder was done nor the identity of the killer.
            Through blogging I have become more interested in Golden Age mysteries. I enjoyed Carr’s book Death Turns the Tables. It was a good book. The Judas Window is a great book. Sergio in his blog Tipping My Fedora had an excellent review of The Judas Window that prompted me to look for it in bookstores. His review includes interesting information from other sources about the book. As noted in a previous post J.D. at Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto found a copy for me. It is a fine hardcover 2nd edition from 1938. I am going to look for more Sir Henry mysteries.
            I liked the cover at the top of the post which was on my copy and features a diagram of the locked room. On the other hand the cover here at the bottom of the post would be the one to get my attention in a bookstore. (Dec. 13/11)


  1. Truly a masterpiece in Carr's career. Glad you sought it out and liked it so much. If you only read one Merrivale book you picked the best one.

    Among the Merrivale mysteries I particularly like the more fanciful and absurd books. Sir Henry can be very blustery and comical in the early books. For more baffling impossible crimes you might want to try HE WOULDN'T KILL PATINECE, SHE DIED A LADY (some very funny scenes with Merrivale confined to a wheelchair in this one) and THE UNICORN MURDERS. If you're in the mood for wackiness THE PUNCH AND JUDY MURDERS is one of the best of the absurd books. THE JUDAS WINDOW is very logical and rather subdued compared to most of the Merrivale books.

    Now forgive this possibly intrusive question, but I have to ask: what is the significance or meaning of those number codes that precede each of your reviews? They've been puzzling me for months.

  2. John: Thanks for the comment. I will look for some more of the Merrivale books as I wander used bookstores.

    No problem with your question. It is not intrusive. They are my personal way of keeping track of how many books I have read. The first number is where it ranks in the year, 67 meaning it was the 67th book I have read this year, and the second number being its ranking in books I have read since Jan. 1, 2000 and though it states 527 I just realized it should be 627! I will make the correction later today. Your comment has gotten me correct in my totals. Thanks, I do not know when I would have caught the error without your comment. The numbering was not intended to be a puzzle. You are the first person to ask about the numbers.

  3. Bill - Oh, Carr did those "locked room" mysteries expertly, didn't he? Thanks for the fine review of this one. I'm so glad you featured one of his novels. That bottom cover got my attention, too...

  4. Great review Bill and I'm really glad you liked it - as John pointed out, it's probably the one to start with though there are plenty more - practically all the Carter Dickson / Carr novels of the 30s and 40s are in the top tier of Gold Age detective fiction as far as I'm concerned (they did tail off a bit after that as he got more into historical mysteries.

  5. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is an arresting cover though, beyond the arrow, has nothing to do with the book.

  6. Sergio: Thanks for the comment. With his imagination I am glad Carr wrote mysteries rather than planned crimes.

  7. Carr's one of my favourite authors. If you're interested, there is a marvellous site about Carr which was created by Grobius Shortling (the late Wyatt James) which can be found at mysterylist.com
    You will have to be careful about the review section, which includes spoilers, but I've found it enormously useful in keeping track of which books I've read. Amongst the Merrivale books, THE CURSE OF THE BRONZE LAMP, THE READER IS WARNED, THE CROOKED HINGE and A GRAVEYARD TO LET (which has a man vanishing from a swimming pool) are perhaps my favourites. The Dr.Fell stories also have some corkers, with THE HOLLOW MAN, HE WHO WHISPERS, and TILL DEATH DO US PART being particularly sublime.

  8. Sextonblake: Thanks for the comment. I will be looking for Merrivale books after Christmas.